The European Parliament’s buildings, kitchens and fleet of vehicles have been serving a new purpose. They have been helping some of those most affected by coronavirus in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, the three host countries of the European institution.
Typically bustling with its 705 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) and thousands of staff, new faces have appeared in the institution’s buildings where teleworking has been in place since the start of the lockdown. Homeless women are now housed in one of its buildings in Brussels. Doctors are working in its premises in Strasbourg to test the public for coronavirus. And the cooks in the institution’s kitchens in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg are preparing free meals.
A first in Belgium
Among these initiatives, the Helmut Kohl Parliament building in Brussels has been transformed to temporarily house 100 homeless women, 24 hours a day, whilst respecting physical distancing measures.
For Samu-Social, which supports the homeless in Brussels and is managing this temporary centre, the initiative is “a first”.
“It’s a very strong symbol when we know the building was used just two weeks before by European civil servants. It’s quite exceptional and unexpected, but the COVID-19 crisis has led to many unexpected things,” explains Christophe Thielens, Samu-Social spokesperson.
The women, many of whom are victims of domestic violence, are provided with medical, psychological and social support. Most have a room to themselves, which is often unheard of.
“We are used to staying sometimes with 3, 6, 10 in the same room, so having some privacy is already something,” one of its residents says. “It is a very beautiful place, very clean, and the people here are very kind.”
Testing centre in France
In Strasbourg, a giant testing centre has been installed in the Parliament’s premises. Open since May 11, around 2,000 people from France’s Grand Est region, which has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, can be tested there each day. People without symptoms identified as having been in close contact with someone with the virus can visit the centre with a prescription and by appointment.
Chefs cooking in solidarity in Luxembourg, France and Belgium
In Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Brussels, Parliament cooks are preparing hundreds of meals each day in the institution’s kitchens. Meals are distributed to the homeless and medical staff through associations such as the Red Cross and Caritas Luxembourg.
The parliament’s fleet of vehicles in Brussels and Strasbourg has also been made available to help the transportation of doctors, nurses and social workers.
All in this together
“We are all involved in an emergency which touches people’s lives. This crisis must push all of us, including the institutions, to set a good example,” says European Parliament President David Sassoli.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres also calls for greater solidarity in the face of this unprecedented health threat. “We are in this together – and we will get through this, together.”